A Poem by Candace Williams
Author: Poetry Editor
July 12, 2016
This week, a poem by Candace Williams.
JOHN HENRY SUFFERING AND DYING IN THE ARMS OF HIS POLLY ANN
AFTER A VENTRICULAR RUPTURE RESULTING FROM OVERWORK
I drove through slag and ore so men could move
the Coosa Mountain, God not seen. I fought
and won and found no prize because this work
is not the will of God. The will of God
is not the greed of gluttons— masters who
are now the captains. Captain Dabney made
this bet— he told the salesman my sledge could beat
a drill that’s pushed by steam and metal parts.
My sledge is forty pounds. I beat the machine.
Oh Captain! Captain? Pilot oh pilot me…
I was his slave by birth. I lived and toiled
in bondage under Master Dabney now
I die from toil under Captain Dabney.
I’m blind, my Polly Ann. I’m blind…You rock
a dying man like mothers rock infants
who see the world with new, soft eyes. I’m blind!
I hear the roar of hammers striking stone
and know no hammer stops for me. I loved
my hammer more than thirsty men must love
a dip of water from a running stream.
I loved my hammer’s sound— it rang through night.
It rang through rock. It kept the pace. I saw
it raised above my head and then I saw
no more. I worked to eat and worked to live.
The Captain lives to gain. The Captain lives.
His children live. His children ride the rail.
I swung my sledge. They ride the rail. I swung
my sledge. My Polly Ann! The Captain lives.
CANDACE WILLIAMS’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sixth Finch, No, Dear and Copper Nickel. She holds a MA in Elementary Education from Stanford University and has taken workshops at Cave Canem and Brooklyn Poets. Candace lives in Brooklyn, NY with a pit bull named Madonna.